The United States Fish &Wildlife Service has announced a "policy change" that is the most important change in its trophy permitting practices in the 30-year history of the Endangered Species Act. The Service has announced a change in policy to begin issuing import permits for game species listed as "endangered" in select instances.
The published notice was entitled, Draft Policy for Enhancement-of-Survival Permits for Foreign Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act, 68 FR 49512, August 18, 2003. The Service states in the notice that trophy importation permits will begin being issued as a "conservation tool" to enhance the species survival and that the hunter/permit applicants and related interests will be treated as "conservation partners."
The Service states that the Endangered Species Act ("ESA") and the regulations allow the Service to issue trophy import permits of endangered species when it "enhances the survival or propagation of the listed species, but in the past we have generally chosen to limit these types of permits." "We now believe there could be a greater conservation benefit by providing for the import . . . of carefully selected ESA-listed foreign species, or their parts and products, that are obtained from . . . well-managed conservation programs that . . . promote and advance the conservation of the species within the range countries."
The Service admits that even though a large number of foreign species are listed, "most of the key conservation provisions of the ESA do not apply to foreign species." "In some situations, listing under the ESA may provide few, if any, additional benefits and may complicate the implementation of conservation initiatives, such as CITES. . . . Ultimately, the incentives that the United States can employ to encourage conservation activities for foreign species in other countries are limited, and we need to consider the use of every possible means available. In practical terms, one of the few available means for encouraging the conservation of foreign endangered species is through our decisions about whether to issue import permits."
The Service stated its goal is to use the "permits program to promote the longtime conservation of animals . . . and their habitats" as outlined in its recent publication, Leaving a Lasting Legacy: Permits as a Conservation Tool, (http://permits.fws.gov). That publication was the product of permit reform begun during the Clinton Administration that has not yet been put into practice. Objective Five of that Service publication is to "recognize permittees as partners in conservation." It also provides that it is important to "treat people . . . as partners, treat them with dignity, treat them with respect." That is in complete contrast with the Service’s past practices. It has had an attitude that permitted activities are otherwise prohibited, so it is of no great concern. Here at Conservation Force, we have not seen any change in practices. If anything, permitting has been worse than ever. Applications for permits of new species and/or areas, even though only listed as Threatened, have been bottled up for several years. It has never been worse.
The Service states that its "permitting authority is not being fully used even though it (permitting) is internationally recognized as one of the most effective conservation tools employed by CITES and other multilateral, international agreements." "Implementing this policy could encourage proactive conservation through the use of ‘enhancement of survival’ findings to allow for imports that result from programs that significantly advance the conservation of a species within a given range in the country."
The Pakistan markhor and Canadian Wood bison are cited in the notice as examples of two species listed as endangered under the ESA that the Service may find warrant the issuance of trophy import permits. In both instances, CITES has taken special action to facilitate tourist hunting, but the Service has just been stalling on the issuance of import permits for years. The very existence of some populations of markhor in Pakistan is dependent upon tourist hunting.
The notice states that the "draft policy presents guidance to help the public understand the requirements" for permit issuance under the ESA. "It is not intended to be prescriptive," but it is only proposed for "certain limited situations" where it "enhances the survival of the species in the wild." The "[e]nhancement must be demonstrated through support of a substantive conservation program for that species in the range country with a positive benefit for the species and/or its habitat." The enhancement must provide a "net benefit" to the species. The conservation objection of the permit is to "encourage" conservation programs that provide a net benefit by rewarding those that have such programs. Perhaps others will follow the positive examples that have borne fruit.